Interview: Adrian Vandenberg

After an absence that lasted for more than three decades, former Whitesnake guitarist Adrian Vandenberg has resurrected his band Vandenberg and they are very much alive again in a young, fresh and all-revised 2020 version. The new line up features Rainbow’s Ronnie Romero on vocals, bassist Randy van der Elsen (of NWOBHM heroes Tank) and drummer Koen Herfst, (Bobby Kimball (Toto), Epica and Doro). The new album 2020 will be released on May 29th via Mascot Records. Adrian talks us through the reasons for resurrecting the band name, as well as talking about his admiration for the killer band that he has assembled.

The long-awaited return of Vandenberg commences May 29th with the new album. When you resurrect a name like Vandenberg after 35 years, is there any trepidation at all?

VandenbergYeah, I am actually very pleasantly surprised at the reactions of Vandenberg coming back. I wasn’t really expecting that, I know that we did a lot of good stuff back in those days, but that’s quite a while ago. Initially, when my manager and the record company suggested using the name again, my reaction was… well I don’t want to give people the impression that I’m going to go nostalgic! I started thinking about it and thought to put Moonkings on ice, and come up with another new name, and then start all over again with a new name. That wasn’t really too attractive to me, so I thought that if I could find a really amazing singer, and put together an amazing line-up, then in that case it would be very cool. You would have a kick-ass up-to-date band sounding fresh and exciting, but with a name that has a heritage, so in that case, it seemed like a charming idea to me.

Once Ronnie came onboard it made sense to me, because as we all know Ronnie is an amazing singer. This inspired me to write songs along the lines of the hardest Vandenberg songs at the time; songs like ‘Waiting For The Night’ and ‘This Is War’, and take them to 2020 with a fresh, in-your-face sound. So I got really excited with Ronnie onboard, along with our drummer Koen and our bass player Randy, as well as special guests Brian Tichy and Doug Aldrich. I thought yeah.. let’s kick ass!

Given the Deep Purple family tree and the connections to Whitesnake and Rainbow, it seemed destiny that you and Ronnie would work together at some point.

Yeah, it’s interesting that you say that because we both also had that feeling. We started talking about working together, we started brainstorming, and we both said similar things. And it’s interesting right now that we can rightfully add a couple of Rainbow and Whitesnake songs in our setlist because of our connections, and it wouldn’t feel like a cover band. I was with Whitesnake for 12 or 13 years, and Ronnie has been with Rainbow for 5 or 6 years now, so it would be legit to honour these bands, and we would love to because man, I would love to do a couple of Rainbow songs! I’m such a huge fan of Rainbow, especially the period with Ronnie James Dio, of course.

VandenbergThat would be great to see! It’s obvious that Ritchie Blackmore thinks very highly of Ronnie because, let’s face it, Blackmore has a reputation for being hard on his vocalists and Ronnie has been around for more than a few months now!

(laughs) Yes! Ronnie is amazing and inspiring. Songwriting came naturally for me, as a fan of Deep Purple, Rainbow and Whitesnake, then the older stuff like Cream and Hendrix. 99% of the stuff that I grew up on was all British, so it always came naturally with me to write the stuff that I love, and with Ronnie, it definitely gave my inspiration a boost. I could hear in my head the way that he would sing these songs, and they turned out as good as I was hoping for.

For definite, the album is like an instant shot of adrenaline. It opens with ‘Shadows Of The Night’… that’s a killer opener!

Yeah, I was chuckling before. I was reading people’s reactions to me picking up the Vandenberg name again, and they seemed to have been expecting a more lighter approach that would have reminded them of the earlier Vandenberg material. More of a melodic rock sound. So I was chuckling and thinking… man, they are going to get their asses kicked when ‘Shadows Of The Night’ goes online! And it seems to have worked, as the response has been so positive.

The drum sound on this particular one is immense.

It is, yes. I was so happy to have an instant connection with our producer Bob Marlette… and the way Koen plays; I’ve rarely seen someone hit the drums so hard. He says, “I’ve never hit them this hard either!” I’ve worked with some of the best drummers in the business, and they always say, “Well, you shouldn’t hit them so hard because you lose a certain amount of tone”, but at the same time, if Kuhn loses any tone, then he gets this electric energy that really translates to the record. He has this Bonham type of approach during the end section of ‘Hell And High Water’, there are a couple of Bonham style fills in there. When I initially spoke to Koen about the approach – he originally comes from a proggy thrash metal background, pretty sophisticated stuff – so I said, “Well, I’d like to give you some homework because you didn’t start out with the stuff that I started out with. So I said for him to listen to some Bonham stuff, some Ian Paice and also some Brian Tichy, as Brian is a modern drummer with his roots in the drummers that we all love. Koen’s first album was Deep Purple ‘Made In Japan’, so he knows the classics, but at the same time he has this technical ability, and that’s why it sounds so easy when he plays.

I still get a kick from listening to the album. Sometimes, I’ve heard it three or four times a day. I just enjoy this kind of rock. I always strive to make an album that I would rush out to buy, an album that I want to own because I want to play it over and over. It’s very surprising to me that I still want to play it after all the work from the last few months. I still want to hear it two or three times a day because, like you said, ‘Shadows Of The Night’ starts and I go, “Yeaaahhhh!” You want to cruise too fast along the highway with your windows down and the album blasting out from your car!

VandenbergExactly, yes! Now, you touched on the track ‘Hell And High Water’. That has a classic feel to it, but with a modern bite. It’s almost like Rainbow ‘Rising’ done 2020 style. Who plays the keyboards on it?

It’s actually our producer, Bob Marlette. I put the same keyboards on the demo that I had made on my iPad, and Bob said that he really liked them and would I mind if he reproduced them with a proper keyboard. On my iPad, I think that I used a Hammond sound, and put some strings on there, but it really needed some keyboards on it as they add an extra colour. It’s an epic track.

I was so happy to let my inspirations flow. I’ve always been happy to allow this, whether it was Free, Cream, Deep Purple, Whitesnake or Rainbow with Dio. When I started writing, I just opened up all the windows and doors in my mind and let all the stuff that inspired me flow. I wear my influences proudly on my sleeve, so it annoyed me when I read a couple of interviews with the overly-hyped Greta Van Fleet, and they said that they weren’t really familiar with Led Zeppelin. I just thought, “Fuck! Just be proud of your influences!” Who is not influenced by Led Zeppelin or Deep Purple, eh?! Every rock band is directly, or indirectly, influenced by them. Be happy about that! They inspired other bands who took it further, and those bands inspired other bands who expanded on it. That’s why we have so much great music.

I think that Greta Van Fleet showed a little bit of inexperience when they started making those comments. Their publicist must have aged overnight after reading them!

I suppose so, yes. It was just weird. I mean, even classical composers inspired each other. Whether it was Bach, Beethoven or Mozart, they inspired each other. They would hear a melody and expand on it, and incorporate other parts. Same with painters, they look at each other’s paintings and get inspired. It’s a beautiful thing. You shouldn’t pretend to reinvent the wheel.

Back to Vandenberg… One of the tracks that you’re most famous for is of course the power ballad ‘Burning Heart’, and you’ve re-recorded the track for Vandenberg 2020. In your opinion, what makes a great power ballad?

(laughs) Well! I love a good power ballad! Initially ‘Burning Heart’ wasn’t supposed to be on the new album. My manager wanted to put out a press release announcing this new thing with Ronnie being involved, and he said that it would be a stronger statement to the Press if we had some new music, but we hadn’t gotten to the studio yet. But I remembered with the Moonkings second album that we had recorded bass, drums and rhythm guitar for ‘Burning Heart’ because the Japanese record label always preferred to have bonus tracks for a release. So all we had to do was have Ronnie put a vocal on it and we have a track to accompany the Press release. I flew to Madrid and recorded Ronnie. When it was done, the record label said why don’t we put it on the album. I wasn’t that sure, but they felt that it would be a nice bridge between Vandenberg and Vandenberg 2020. That felt right to me, yeah, it’s a great bridge. I must confess that, although I was a little hesitant about it, when I hear it now amidst the other songs, it sounds very natural, and I was surprised.

When I wrote ‘Let It Rain’ I set myself a challenge, to write a power ballad, but let it lean more towards the power side. A different kind of groove; still heavy, but more of a classic rock type of power ballad, put in 2020. I’ve written power ballads since I was 21, I think. I always combined acoustic and electric guitar. Looking back, that was probably inspired by Free and Led Zeppelin, but this time I decided to make an exception and put no acoustic guitar on it. There’s still acoustic guitar on ‘Burning Heart’, so that’s kind of cool.

When you listened back to the album for the first time, what part made your arms hairs stand on end?

To be honest, most of it. ‘Shadows Of The Night’ turned out even better than I had hoped. The same goes for ‘Hell And High Water’ and ‘Freight Train’, which actually became one of my favourites, because I wanted one of those grooves to kick some ass during the live shows. It’s really grown on me over the last few months. Then there are ‘Skyfall’, ‘Ride Like The Wind’… all of them! I have a new favourite every day! It’s a pretty luxurious situation to be in. Crank it up and enjoy it like a live show!

Lastly, Judas Priest are celebrating their 50th anniversary this year. What’s your favourite Priest song?

Oooooooooh! That’s difficult to say because they have so many great songs! It’s quite funny, because when I first heard ‘Breaking The Law’, and saw the video, we made a silly video in Vandenberg for ‘Friday Night’, and I’m still kind of embarrassed by it. So, watching ‘Breaking The Law’ reminded me of it because it was just as funny! ‘Another Thing Coming’ was another good one. That was on MTV all the time… the same time that Vandenberg was on MTV. I have great memories of that because if you were touring the States, then you could put on MTV and hear some good rock music. Unfortunately those days are gone now, because MTV doesn’t have anything to do with music now.

I never get tired of talking about rock music! It’s all of our lives! Usually by the end of the day I’m hoarse from talking, but it’s all great!

 

 

‘2020’ is available May 29th on Mascot Records, pre-order here.

Interview – Dave

Images – Stefan Schipper – Alex Solca

 

 

 

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